November 19, 2023

How Long Can You Live With Pleural Effusion?

The length of time you live with pleural effusion depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Your outlook and recovery will also depend on how quickly you seek treatment. If left untreated, pleural effusion can lead to a more serious condition called empyema or trapped lung. If you are diagnosed with pleural effusion, Yale Medicine's experts can help you find the best treatment option to treat your specific condition and symptoms.

Pleural effusion happens when fluid builds up between the layers of the pleura, a thin membrane that lines your lungs and chest wall. Normally, only teaspoons of watery fluid are in the pleural space to allow your lungs to move easily when you breathe. Pleural effusion may be caused by a number of medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, cancer, tuberculosis, a chest trauma or certain medications and surgeries.

Your doctor will drain your pleural effusion to relieve symptoms and improve your breathing. This procedure is called a thoracentesis. A needle or a tube (called a chest tube) is inserted into the chest cavity to remove the fluid for testing. The fluid is tested for blood, pus and other signs of infection. Your doctor will then use the results of the test to determine what is causing your pleural effusion.

Your doctor will treat the condition that causes pleural effusion to prevent it from occurring again. For example, if the pleural effusion is due to heart failure, you might receive antibiotics and diuretics to treat the heart problem. Your doctor might also recommend a surgery called pleurodesis, in which they place medication on your lungs to make the lung tissue stick together, preventing future fluid buildup.

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